An uncrewed Russian cargo spacecraft fell back to Earth shortly after launching toward the International Space Station (ISS) today (Dec. 1).
The Progress 65 freighter lifted off atop a three-stage Soyuz-U rocket at 9:51 a.m. EST (1451 GMT) today from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. About 6 minutes into the flight, Russian mission controllers stopped receiving telemetry from the cargo ship, and radar stations were subsequently unable to pick it up on its planned orbit, said officials with Roscosmos, the Russian federal space agency.
"According to preliminary information, the contingency took place at an altitude of about 190 km [118 miles] over remote and unpopulated mountainous area of the Republic of Tyva," Roscomos officials wrote in an update today, referring to a rugged region in southern Russia along the Mongolian border. [How Russia's Progress Spaceships Work (Infographic)]
"[Most of the] cargo spacecraft fragments burned in the dense atmosphere," they added. "The State Commission is conducting analysis of the current contingency. The loss of the cargo ship will not affect the normal operations of the ISS and the life of the station crew."
While the investigation into today's launch failure is ongoing, early indications point to an issue with the Soyuz's third stage.
"Basically, what we saw was indications of the third stage sep[aration] occurring a few minutes early, and we haven't had any communications with the Progress at all," mission controllers at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston told NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough, the current ISS commander, as the situation was unfolding.